Many of the lockdown restrictions imposed across the UK to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have now been removed or relaxed but life still feels very different from what we were once used to. It does, though, seem inappropriate to continue referring to Lockdown Nature Walks and this will be my last one with that name. So, for my tenth walk I want to come back to where I started back in March by walking round some of the town centre gardens and car parks looking at what is out and about in late August/early September.
Let’s start at the Leechwell Garden, a peaceful, green oasis in the centre of Totnes open to all. There is always plenty to see here and it changes week by week. Many flowers grow and I pop in regularly to look at the insects that have been attracted. During my lockdown visits to the Garden, I have talked to many people and I came to realise what an important lifeline the Garden has been for those without green spaces of their own or for people wanting a physically distanced conversation. The Garden has also echoed with children’s laughter and the sandpit and play area have been a much-needed diversion for families.
Here are a few highlights from my recent visits:
It’s a short walk from the Leechwell Garden to the Nursery Car Park, one of the town centre car parks, surrounded by tall stone walls, grassy banks and soil borders. In April and May, one of the soil borders was unexpectedly enlivened by colourful wildflowers that commandeered its scruffy surface. Insects were attracted and in Lockdown Nature Walk 5, I described how I found beautiful orange-tip butterflies here. As spring gave way to summer, the first flush of flowers was replaced by large clumps of spear thistle occupying the border with their architectural presence as if the triffids had taken over. These thistles proved very popular with bees:
In mid-August, the local council decided to mend the fence along the back of this border and in the process cut all the flowers and trees down to ground level. This did seem rather drastic but most of the plants had finished flowering for the year so perhaps the damage was mostly cosmetic. I do, though, wonder what happened to the chrysalises of the orange-tip butterflies?
The other borders were unaffected by this scorched earth policy and a large buddleia in one corner is currently covered in its purple plume-shaped flowers that perfume the air with their distinctive but slightly sickly fragrance. In another corner, brambles still retain a few late flowers. Both are currently attracting butterflies.
Finally, I want to go to the Heathway Car Park, also close to the Leechwell Garden. Along one side of the parking area there is an old stone wall covered in dark green-leaved ivy and now is the time of year that I begin to peer at stands of this climber. It’s the developing flower heads that interest me and they currently show considerable variation: some still resemble tiny, pale green golf balls composed of a tight cluster of small spheres. In others, slightly more mature, the individual spheres are held on extended stalks like a clutch of ice cream cones. Then on August 23rd, in the Heathway Car Park I found that some of these ice cream cones were showing yellow-tipped stamens, the ivy had flowered. Insects come immediately to take advantage of this new canteen of nectar and pollen and a stand of ivy in full bloom and covered with insects can be an awe-inspiring sight. So far, I have only seen wasps and hoverflies on the flowers but I hope to see some ivy bees, the last of the solitary bees to emerge each year and a sure sign of the changing season.
The picture at the head of this post shows a small white butterfly (Pieris rapae) on globe thistle (Echinops) in the Leechwell Garden